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My Autobiography
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Book Discussions > FEB 2015: My Autobiography by Charles Chaplin

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Samantha Glasser | 453 comments Mod
For our first book, we will be discussing Charlie Chaplin's autobiography.

Pre-Reading Questions
1. What, if any, knowledge do you have about this man? What do you expect to learn from reading?
2. Have you watched any of Chaplin's films? Which is your favorite?
3. Have you watched the Robert Downey Jr. biopic about Chaplin? Thoughts?



message 2: by Drew (new)

Drew Raley | 2 comments Just joined for the Chaplin discussion. Very excited! The biopic IMO suffers from some stunt casting in the supporting roles, and a starchiness that is typical of Lord Attenborough's late work. I love the photography, though, and Downey Jr. captures the character in a way that is spooky.


Kuriztee (imaginethatchristie) Drew wrote: "Just joined for the Chaplin discussion. Very excited! The biopic IMO suffers from some stunt casting in the supporting roles, and a starchiness that is typical of Lord Attenborough's late work. I l..."

You know I say this to everyone, the movie was good, I guess, but I skips out on SOOOOO much. CC's autobio is my favorite book to-date.

Answers:
1.] I know just about everything and would love to learn more <3

2.] Monsieur Verdoux, Pawn Shop, One A.M. and The Kid

3.] answer is in reply to Drew


message 4: by Tricia (new) - added it

Tricia | 11 comments So I'm kind of excited because Charlie Chaplin is one I don't know much about - never done much reading on him, wouldn't consider his films must see and never saw the recent Robert Downey Jr movie - so I come into this cold, but with a very open mind! :) Looking forward to learning more!


message 5: by Kuriztee (last edited Jan 30, 2015 02:18PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kuriztee (imaginethatchristie) Tricia wrote: "So I'm kind of excited because Charlie Chaplin is one I don't know much about - never done much reading on him, wouldn't consider his films must see and never saw the recent Robert Downey Jr movie ..."

OH goodness, Tricia. This book pretty much changed my life. It's an absolute must read. I suggest watching The Kid (available on youtube) to get an idea of who he is. Then if you're interested read this book. Pawn Shop and One A.M. are 2 of my favorite movies. <3


message 6: by Jules (new) - added it

Jules (daisysgirl) | 65 comments I am a bit like Tricia here. I read a bio about Charlie Chaplin years ago (last century) by Peter Haining. I have seen the Kid and thought he showed great courage to make The Great Dictator. Believe I may have some of his movies in my collection so have to dig them out and watch. Thought Robert Downey Jr. was wonderful in Chaplin.

Answers:
1. That he was a man before his time. Wonderfully talented. Would expect to learn more about what made he the way he was.

2. The Kid & the Great Dictator (and probably others I have forgotten about).

3. Loved the biopic. In fact hope to re-watch tonight.


Richard I read Chaplin's autobiography many years ago. He's definitely someone worth getting to know: one of America's first film superstars and the most enduring star from his era. Also worth reading is David Robinson's biography of Chaplin (simply titled Chaplin). As for movies, The Kid is a great introduction to Chaplin from his peak years, but I'm also partial to later films like Modern Times and The Great Dictator. Reading about Charlie Chaplin is one thing, but to really appreciate him you have to see him in action.


Samantha Glasser | 453 comments Mod
QUESTIONS FOR CHAPTERS 1-3
1. Chaplin’s childhood is often referred to as Dickensian. Do you agree with this statement? Do you believe any of his memories are embellished, and if so, for what reason?
2. Chaplin references many things of a bygone era: vaudeville, Nell Gwyn, “The Honeysuckle and the Bee”, etc. Did you need to look these things up? Did this aid or frustrate your reading?



Kuriztee (imaginethatchristie) 1.] I do agree.
I don't ever believe any biographical book completely. Embellished, you betcha, but I don't think whatever was embellished was to take away from Chaplin's life, only add to his humor.

2.] I had no idea what Vaudeville was or how to pronounce it. Even after learning what it was, I didn't know how to pronounce it. That was the only frustration.


Samantha Glasser | 453 comments Mod
I've heard it pronounced two ways. I saw vaudeville like it rhymes with Maude. Some people say "vode-ville" like it sounds like "votive."


Kuriztee (imaginethatchristie) Samantha wrote: "I've heard it pronounced two ways. I saw vaudeville like it rhymes with Maude. Some people say "vode-ville" like it sounds like "votive.""

I've only ever heard it rhyme with Maude, so that's how I say it now lol


Richard It's sometimes pronounced with three syllables: Vaude-eh-ville.

Vaudeville is a very interesting chapter in American entertainment history. It was eventually killed off by radio and movies, but a lot of the great comedians of the early- to mid-20th Century got their starts in vaudeville, including the Marx Brothers, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Jack Benny, and many many more. George Burns was always a great storyteller about the vaudeville days. For a lot of fun showbiz stories check out his books George Burns: All My Best Friends and Gracie: A Love Story


Kuriztee (imaginethatchristie) Richard wrote: "It's sometimes pronounced with three syllables: Vaude-eh-ville.

Vaudeville is a very interesting chapter in American entertainment history. It was eventually killed off by radio and movies, but a ..."



I wish there were still clubs with Vaudeville shows, that'd be great entertainment!

I have heard it also with 3 syllables!


message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

Hello, everyone! I just joined a minute ago after finding an invite in my inbox. I'm not very active here on Goodreads, but thank you so much for the invite; this group seems right up my alley.

I'm reading Tinseltown at the moment, but as soon as I finish that I'm looking forward to reading this, especially because of Chaplin's connection to two of my favorite actors--Mabel Normand and Fatty Arbuckle. I'm also curious how/whether he's going to address the scandals surrounding him. ^_~


message 15: by Leslie (new)

Leslie Just joined a couple of days ago I'm really looking forward to starting the book. I did a report on Charlie when I was a kid but sadly I didn't retain to much. I've only seen clips of his movies but will definitely have to check more out as I read the book. (Sadly waiting on my copy to get here) I've never seen the whole movie with Robert Downey jr I always seem to miss it when it's on.


message 16: by William (new)

William Byron (goodreadscomNotPercyShelley) | 1 comments Often conflicted on Chaplin as an individual. Very big devotee of Fairbanks Sr.; adore Pickford- due to his association with them both as a United Artists partner and as Fairbank's best friend I often am exposed to him whether I seek him out or not. I'll read his work for the same reason I'd read George Burn's- I'm a huge fan of Jack Benny, so logic tells me that I can find anecdotes about JB in Burn's memoirs- the same logic applies to Chaplin writing about Fairbanks.

Didn't finish the 'Chaplin' film, thought it was stunt casting and too Hollywood-ized but perhaps this club will motivate me to give it a closer look?


Richard I have to say that if you only know Chaplin from the Robert Downey Jr. movie then you really need to see Chaplin himself in action.

The favorite films of most fans are "City Lights" and "The Kid" but I'm in the minority (I think) that prefers "Modern Times" and "The Great Dictator." "The Circus" is also good. But see his films! He's an essential part of film history.


Samantha Glasser | 453 comments Mod
Chapters 4-7
1. Chaplin called his family’s brief time of prosperity his “ice cream days” because it was the first time they could afford such a treat with any regularity. Describe a time when you felt similarly fortunate. What makes you feel you are “in the money” now?
2. How do you think you would have reacted if your only parent was taken to an asylum and there was no child welfare system in place to care for you?
3. What do you make of Hetty Kelly and Chaplin’s strong memories of her?



message 19: by Tricia (new) - added it

Tricia | 11 comments Yay! Book finally arrived in mail today so I can get caught up! Still need to get and watch some movies and really get into the spirit. :)


Samantha Glasser | 453 comments Mod
For those who are interested in watching Chaplin's films, I highly recommend the Flicker Alley boxed sets, which are beautifully restored. I watched a few of the Keystones to supplement my reading. You also might want to consult your local library, which furnished me with many of his films when I first became interested. (City Lights was the first I ever saw, and the ending is just as stirring as it was then.)

CHAPTERS 8-11
1. Have you ever been to New York? If so, what were your first impressions? How do they compare with Chaplin’s?
2. Why do you think Chaplin’s tramp character caught on so well? Would he have become as successful had he not created the tramp?
3. If you were Chaplin, do you think you would prefer to travel incognito or with a lot of fanfare?



Richard 1. I was born in New York, so my first impressions are kind of fuzzy!

2. Yes, I think so. Chaplin was enormously talented. If he hadn't succeeded with the Tramp he would have succeeded with some other character.

3. I'd probably prefer not to have the fanfare. Although, I recently saw Matthew Perry on David Letterman's show, and he said that he had been traveling in China where nobody knew who he was, and he enjoyed being incognito, until, that is, some situation arose where he wanted the perks of being a celebrity, and then suddenly incognito was no longer looking so good.


Samantha Glasser | 453 comments Mod
CHAPTERS 12-15
1. Why do you suppose Chaplin got along so well with Douglas Fairbanks? Have you watched any of his films, and if so, what do you think of them?
2. Is it a good idea for celebrities to promote their political agendas? Why or why not?
3. Would Chaplin have gone independant with United Artists had Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks not been involved?



Kuriztee (imaginethatchristie) Samantha wrote: "CHAPTERS 12-15
1. Why do you suppose Chaplin got along so well with Douglas Fairbanks? Have you watched any of his films, and if so, what do you think of them?
2. Is it a good idea for celebrities ..."


1.] Probably similar sense of humor and I think DF admired CC's mind while CC admired DF's masculinity. I haven't seen any DF movies, once I get back to the silent era I probably will get more into DF and MP
2.] IMO it wasn't necessarily BAD but it was a useful way of persuading the public to react in whichever direction. The not-so-bad side was that people probably cared a little more about politics and voting because their favorite stars had opinions and views about certain issues, thus the fan paying more attention to whatever. This is a theory. Lol
3] That is a good question and one that I can't answer so I'm interested in what others have to say about it!


Richard 1. I've only seen Fairbanks in one movie, The Thief of Baghdad. I know I'm not the first to make this observation, but he really was an early-day Errol Flynn, not just with the swashbuckling but with the air of confidence and the "dash" that he displayed on the screen. I believe I've already mentioned it elsewhere here, but Jeffrey Vance's biography of Fairbanks is really very good, and a quick read as well. I recommend it.

2. Celebrities have the same right to free speech as everyone else. I don't see why this is controversial. Whether the celebrity's views are far to the left or far to the right, they have the right to speak their mind.

3. Chaplin greatly valued creative control when he made his pictures. Without Pickford and Fairbanks (and Griffith), United Artists may not have been formed, but I'm sure Chaplin would have found some way to produce and market his films outside of the traditional studio system.


Allyson | 5 comments I am a little late in responding.....questions for ch. 1to 3......1. I do think his childhood was Dickensinian. I have read a lot of Dickens books and there are a lot of commonalities there. As for if he embellished, maybe but having in other books and etc, what he and his family went through were not unique in any way shape or form. Workhouses were common for those who could not take care of themselves or their families. 2. the references he made, I knew about mostly. I found quite a bit he referenced were things that were in the movie with Robert Downey Jr which made somethings easy to understand/know what he was speaking about. ch 4 to 7 1. i am not in my ice cream days right now. i am just going to leave it at that :) 2. i cannot imagine having my one and only parent taken away from me. i grew up in a family that had both parents throughout. there were times when i wondered if they and us kids would have been better had they not been together but they stuck through it all. From what i have understood from the book that Charlie's brother, Sydney, was his one and only person to rely on for many years. Their love and dedication to their mother even when she was unable to care for them is moving and touching. Their love was unwavering for each other and their mother. Like Charlie, I would have lied and fibbed to not be sent back to the Workhouse or orphanage during the Victorian era,for that I do not blame him one bit. 3. As for his memories of Hetty, she was the first person he loved and really wanted to be with. It is understandable that she would make such an impact on his memory. It seems that she became the image of his ideal woman weather he realized it or not. ch 8 to 11 1. i have never been to new york and wish that if i had it would be the New York of Charlie Chaplin time. 2. I think the tramp character caught on so well is that people could relate to him. he was not perfect or fancy in any way shape or form which allowed people to be able to relate to him. In addition, there were times he was able to do things (like kicking an immigration official in the backside) that the everyday people would and could not do. plus he was just a little quirky and silly to boot. 3. i think that at first maybe he thought the fanfare was nice but i am sure that after awhile it begins to grow tiresome esp when it hinders the things you really want to do like when he wanted to go back to his old haunts from when he was a child on his own but would constantly be spotted and crowds would begin to form. ch 12 to 15 1. I am not as knowledgeable about Fairbanks' life as I would like to but so i am not sure how their youths compared but from what i know about douglas, he was pretty well grounded and i think he appreciated chaplin as a person not just cos he was the funny guy on film. they were real true friends until the end and through thick and thin. i have seen a few of douglas' films and always found them entertaining if you like that action packed maleness. i compare him to Errol Flynn of later films in many ways. 2. in some ways i think it is good for celebrities to voice their political agendas as it introduces people into things they may not normally be knowledgeable about on their own. however, their views and opinions may cloud a fans own views and opinions. There are pros and cons for either one i believe. 3. it is hard to say if chaplin would have gone solo as it would depend if he had enough money. with all of them going together it was like a little security blanket so to speak. they were all in difference genre of films and had millions of fans following them. i know that UA was in the hole until Chaplin's first film came out for them but I think if he had gone solo it would have been awhile due to the cost mainly. Making movies, even then was not a cheap endeavor.


Samantha Glasser | 453 comments Mod
CHAPTERS 16-18
1. Was Mildred Harris a gold digger?
2. Chaplin preaches simplicity in movie-making and felt that artistic effects muddied films and made them pompous. Do you agree or disagree? He also suggests that “keeping up with the times” in technique is inferior to one’s own instincts. Do you feel filmmakers should study their contemporaries?
3. Is there freedom in poverty as Somerset Maugham suggested or constraint as Chaplin said?



Kuriztee (imaginethatchristie) 1.) I don't think so. I think it was a case of young and enthusiastic love but also very foolish.
2.) It's funny that he should feel this way when what he's doing by being so simple is absolutely artistic in his Chaplin ways. His refusal to "keep up with the times" is artistic. I do feel like filmmakers should study any other filmmaker or actor if they find inspiration in them.
3.) In my opinion there's a whole lot of both. LOL


Samantha Glasser | 453 comments Mod
CHAPTERS 19-22
1. William Randolph Hearst is a complex figure. Citizen Kane famously lambasts him, but Chaplin seems to overall hold a favorable opinion. How do you feel about Hearst and why?
2. There is much speculation about Thomas Ince’s death, including rumors that blamed Hearst for shooting him. (The film The Cat’s Meow illustrates the events leading up to the alleged shooting.) Chaplin writes that he was not even present on the yacht. What do you think happened?
3. If you had the opportunity to meet an important historical (living) figure such as Chaplin did with Churchill, Einstein, and Gandhi, who would you like to meet and what would you ask?



Allyson | 5 comments WRH was an intersting man to say the least. I have read a little about him and his life, its clean how/why Welles got some of the bits of his story of Kane from the life of WRH. There are plenty of books and papers written about WRH which are negative or lambast him. i find it interesting and different read something from someone who knew him and seemed to like him. He is an interesting figure for sure, I think he was a little odd but it seems par for the course for children who grow up with immense wealth and opportunity. His mother was a very domineering figure in his life until her death and i think had a great influence over his life throughout. Look to other rich families who children had more money than they knew what to do with from the get go and they often were sheltered and coddled. FDR's mother, Sara, would not allow him to play with other children as she felt anyone who was poor (ie anyone who had less money and connections than she did) was not suitable for her son to associate with. Which greatly affected him socially well into his adulthood and marriage to Elenore. Another example is Howard Hughes as well. Q2. I think Ince's death will be one of those things that we never know the truth about (unless we already do know the truth) and there is no point in ruminating over it as we will never know for sure. I think it happened as they said. But thats just my 2 cents. Q3. I think that we all would have various questions but would we have the guts to ask them? Would we be star struck? who knows until we are in that sort of situation. i am sure however that someone like Churchill, i would choke up and would have been too awestruck to say anything of import.


Julie | 11 comments "I wish there were still clubs with Vaudeville shows, that'd be great entertainment! " - I've been to some Burlesque shows in NYC and San Francisco that are similar to old vaudeville shows. Comedians, singers, dancers, jugglers, fire-eaters etc. Now that I think about it, I'm not sure what the difference is between Vaudeville and Burlesque. Nudity?


Julie | 11 comments Samantha wrote: "Chapters 4-7
2. How do you think you would have reacted if your only parent was taken to an asylum and there was no child welfare system in place to care for you?

I thought the workhouses were the child welfare system back then? And the govt insisting the father take custody of his kids instead of the state doing so also seemed like a child welfare system in place. That being said, it would have been horrific to be separated from your family and placed in an orphanage/workhouse like that. It reminded me of the book (and movie) Philomena where the title character was sent to a workhouse for having an illegitimate baby and suffered serious abuse there. I was wondering if Charlie was also abused and just chose not to write about it.



message 32: by Samantha (last edited Mar 16, 2015 08:23AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Samantha Glasser | 453 comments Mod
The burlesque shows I've seen and heard about around Columbus usually involve nudity and drag queens. Not really my cup of tea, but some people love it.

I suppose by child welfare system I meant modern child welfare system. The fact that Chaplin could skip out on school with no consequences and take a manual labor job was a stark contrast with what would happen to him now.


Samantha Glasser | 453 comments Mod
I apologize for the delay in questions. I was at Cinefest this weekend. We are approaching the end of this book so please keep reading and let us know your thoughts.

CHAPTERS 23-27
1. Did Chaplin make the right decision when he chose to make a sound film?
2. Do you think he overstepped a boundary when he gave his speech about aiding the Russians in WWII?
3. Was the government out to get Chaplin



message 34: by Samantha (last edited Mar 31, 2015 06:20AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Samantha Glasser | 453 comments Mod
CHAPTERS 28- END
1. Do you believe that censorship is necessary?
2. Many silent stars wrote their memoirs in the 60s and 70s. Why?
3. What is your overall impression of this book? Did it live up to your expectations?



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